Interview: Michael Kelley

Recently, Threads Media gave me the opportunity to review Michael Kelley’s study, Tough Sayings of Jesus II. This would be great material for group study and discussion. Follow the links for further info about the material.

As a part of an online book tour, I had the following email interview with Michael. His responses here reflect the engaging style of his writing.

Grace: Michael, while I can see that most any age group would benefit from the lessons, I wondered if you wrote the series with a particular group in mind.

MK: While the Bible study is targeted at 18-34 year olds, it’s really appealing to a certain mindset more than an age demographic. I think all over the place people are rising up across age lines with similar desires and spiritual markers – things like depth of study and experience, community with those around them, and a responsibility to leave the world different than they found it.

Grace: I enjoyed your portrayal of Jesus as more than the two-dimensional flannelgraph Jesus of our Sunday school days. Are there aspects of Jesus’ character and nature that you feel need to be emphasized?

MK: I think I’m shooting for a more holistic view of Jesus here. While we might not admit it, most Christ-followers have “niceness” as a predominant attribute of their Jesus. He’s nice to kids, sinners, and probably puppies.

I do think Jesus is nice, but as you read through the gospels, we start to see that in a lot of situations He didn’t take the nice road. He was intentionally divisive, hard-hitting, and difficult. He tried to get rid of crowds more than He tried to gather them. That flies in the face of the Jesus I am more comfortable with, but that’s what we find.

Grace: You mentioned the story of Jesus turning the tables at the temple. What are the things that you see that the church or christians do now to hinder or obstruct others in their approach to God?

MK: In many ways, I think we have created a whole Christian sub-culture that has its own lingo, stars, and candy. Maybe we like that subculture even more than we like Jesus, because the subculture was implicitly created to make us comfortable. Stuff like that I think tends to get in the way of an authentic and deep walk with Christ.

Grace: In your speaking and teaching, who have you found to be most open to and willing to embrace the idea of a “deeply uncomfortable” walk with Jesus?

MK: I think it’s been the people who have been forced into a situation where they had to wrestle with God. Cancer, car wrecks, divorce, virtually any painful situation like that brings us to a point where theology confronts reality, and sometimes seems to contradict it. It’s that kind of situation that makes people wrestle. And their walk with Christ is already a little uncomfortable.

But also, there’s a whole group of people who have grown up indoctrinated in the subculture of Christianity, and in the end, have felt some element of inauthenticity about it. They – and we – want something more. Something deeper and more real.

Grace: Do you have a favorite story or response from this series?

MK: My take on the cursing of the fig tree seems to illicit interesting responses. There’s been a few times when I have talked through that, that people have disagreed with what I think is happening there.

But maybe the most meaningful has been people’s response to the session about Lazarus. I don’t think we tend to think about the emotional life of God too much, but if we are emotional beings, and we were created in His image, then it stands to reason that He is actually more deeply emotional than we are. The thought of a God who would enter into someone’s moment of pain, even though He knows the happy ending, seems to resonate with a lot of folks. That’s been cool.

Grace: Finally, you mentioned a fondness for certain fruit-flavored candy. I was just wondering what your favorite color is?

MK: Purple. No, red. No wait – Purple. Darn my fickleness!

Grace: Purple?!! You must be kidding. I usually give away the purple ones.

Thanks Michael. I enjoyed the book and your perspective on the parables and what they show us about Jesus when we take the time to look beyond the surface of the story, and thanks for your great responses to my questions.


7 thoughts on “Interview: Michael Kelley

  1. Grace, the timing of this was great for me. All last week I was thinking about Jesus in the temple, overturning tables, using a whip to drive out the animals, etc., and I had to face this fact: It was violent! That really rubs me the wrong way. Too bad, huh? I’ve twisted and turned and looked at it from every angle, but there it is: Jesus was rather violent in that temple. He was angry, and it came out. And the kicker is, of course, he was not sinning.

    I just cannot wrap my head around this, but your post helped me in some measure to get a little further out of my “nice, gentle” Jesus mode of thinking. Thanks.

  2. Tracy,
    Yes and interesting to see that the issues he was so passionate about were injustice and exclusion.

  3. Grace — of course it’s purple!!! 8)

    The truth underneath my concept of a Purple Martyrdom resonates with this interview — the dwelling in and working out of life as a servant (and a suffering one, at that!)

    The trick, of course, is to remember that we are to be servants of God and that our personal suffering impacts our service — and our service impacts our suffering. Ouch!

    As one of my favorite moments captures this paradon (from the TNT movie “Connagher”) — the tall, silent Good Guy (Connagher) defender of the weak and abused, talking with a young outlaw who is watching his friend die on Connagher’s bed (where the Good Guy is matter-of-fact-like tending to the wounds of his dying enemy):

    “You’re a hard man, Connagher.”

    “It’s a hard country, kid.”

    …too few want to actually admit that we live in the hard country, and are called to be doing justice while loving mercy and walking humbly with our God.

    Earlier in the movie, a young boy asked him who gave him a black eye. “Nobody gave it to me, son; I fought for it.”

    And again, when asked why he hadn’t killed the guy from the earlier fist fight. “He didn’t need killin’, son.” He seemed to need a good beatin’ — which he got!

    May we all earn our “black eyes” honestly pursuing justice, move on toward reconciliation by loving mercy and restrain our egos as we walk with humility.

    Great interview, Grace!

  4. Good interview, Grace.

    One caveat…Jesus flippin’ tables in the Temple courts was not a “fly-off-the-handle” event. Notice the chronology of events by fitting together the Synoptics.

    I’ve learned to be skeptical of my own “righteous anger”; it tends to be mostly anger with very little righteousness to it. Jesus, though, seemed to get just the right combination in this area–anger expressed out of total Righteousness.


  5. Grace,

    Just noticed some changes…

    No longer able to use html code on comments?

    Commenter’s pic no longer active?

    Just wanted to be sure it is your settings and not my “problems”.


  6. Grace – Thanks again for this interview. I appreciate your kind words, and the obvious thoughtfulness of your readership.

    By the way, you can send purple my way.

    Michael Kelley

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